Cancer cells corrupt their healthy neighbors: study

Cancer cells corrupt their healthy neighbors: study

PanARMENIAN.Net - The healthy cells immediately surrounding a tumour become more stem cell-like and support cancer growth, reveals a new study published in Nature.

The discovery was made using a new state-of-the-art technique developed by researchers in Ilaria Malanchi's lab at the Crick in order to study the tissue around a tumour—called the tumour microenvironment—known to influence the growth and spread of cancer, as well as treatment response, Medical Xpress reports.

"Our new technique allows us to study changes to cells in the tumour microenvironment with unprecedented precision," says Ilaria, who joint-led the project. "This helps us to understand how these changes relate to tumour growth and metastasis, allowing us to develop better strategies to treat the disease.

"We discovered that non-cancerous cells in the tumour microenvironment regress back into a stem-cell like state, and actually support cancer growth. By corrupting its neighbours, cancer transforms its local environment to support its own survival."

This new technique relies on cancer cells engineered to release a cell-penetrating fluorescent protein that gets taken up by its neighbouring cells. These colour-labelled cells can be identified and compared to other (unlabelled) cells that have not come into contact with the tumour. Researchers in Ilaria's lab used this approach in mice to study the cells around breast cancer that had spread to the lungs. Data from Alessandro Ori's lab at the Fritz Lipmann Institute in Germany confirmed that the labelled cells produced different proteins to unlabelled cells.

The researchers found labelled cells from the lung to have stem cell-like features, unlike the lung cells found outside of the tumour microenvironment. The team showed that those cells from the mouse lungs supported tumour growth when mixed with tumour cells in 3-D culture in the lab, suggesting that they help the cancer to survive and grow.

In order to further test the potential of the stem-cell like cells in the tumour microenvironment, Ilaria teamed up with Joo-Hyeon Lee at the Wellcome Trust/MRC Stem Cell Institute, who used them to grow lung organoids, or 'mini-lungs'.

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